“Building a democratic system is just the first step in protecting human rights. If a democratically elected government does not accept monitoring or respect the law, it may still act lawlessly and abuse its power, leading to discrimination and confrontation. To build a normal democratic society, therefore, we have to actively improve Taiwan’s politics, economy and human rights environment. Otherwise, democracy will exist in name only. Neither illegal acts and abuses of power by the government nor social inequality and injustice can be erased by the fine-sounding word ‘democracy’ alone.”
This comes from President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Vice President Vincent Siew’s (蕭萬長) human rights White Paper entitled “Taiwan Human Rights Declaration for the New Century” (新世紀台灣人權宣言).
Few would dispute these words. The problem is, why does the declaration seem so ironic today? “Operation Concord,” carried out on Ma’s orders to guarantee the security of Chinese envoy Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) during his visit last month, has become a byword for collective government abuse of power. The government has yet to review and reflect on events during Chen’s visit.
Faced with accusations that separation of powers under the Constitution is being upset by excessive centralization of power, the government has responded with cold arrogance, paying no attention to the problem.
Ma promised to amend the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), changing the permit system to a notification system to give the streets back to the public. In practice, however, he has used the police to deny the public its constitutional right to parade and assemble.
In response to calls from the Wild Strawberry Student Movement and other civic groups for amendments to this law, the Cabinet proposed an amendment that would change the law’s form but not its content; the proposed notification system would be compulsory, not voluntary.
Ma also said that party, political and military forces would cease exercising influence within the media, but now his administration is wantonly interfering in the Central News Agency and Radio Taiwan International. Ma even stood by as some of his Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislators pushed through an absurd resolution forcing the Public Television Service to secure item-by-item budgetary approval from higher authorities.
Ma said that prosecutors and investigators should strengthen their understanding of human rights protection. But in answering criticism from his former professor at Harvard University on the criminal detention system and human rights issues, Ma struck a different note, claiming that there were no such violations.
Ma has also said every citizen has the right to transparent information, but after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received a report from the US government on the US nationality status of Taiwanese legislators, Ma allowed Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou (歐鴻鍊) to refuse to reveal the contents in an effort to cover up for at least one lawmaker who deceived the public.
This powerful leader is someone who says one thing before a presidential election but does another after it. Under today’s constitutional system and given the political reality, the public cannot reverse this situation straight away. And those who dare to protest are ridiculed as victims of their own deeds.